Had there never been a lyricist named Bernie Taupin, it’s likely Elton John would not have become the global music icon he is today. That’s how Elton himself sees it, anyway. But the British-born Taupin, who celebrated his 65th birthday this month, not only transitioned from his upbringing in the East Midlands and into the public consciousness with such legendary hits as John’s “Your Song,” “Daniel” and “Candle in the Wind” (among scores of others), he also called upon his humble beginnings – having been born in a rural farmhouse with no electricity – to pen lyrics that would translate well to a country-music setting.
In 2002, Taupin and songwriter-producer Matt Serletic (who would later sign country’s Gloriana to his Emblem Music Group label), co-wrote “Mendocino Country Line.” A heartbreaking highlight on Willie Nelson’s The Great Divide LP, Nelson recorded the tune as a duet with Lee Ann Womack. Reaching Number 22 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, the ode to a doomed love affair was Nelson’s highest-charting single since 1990, although a year later, he’d have a chart-topper, “Beer for My Horses,” with Toby Keith.
In addition to a gorgeous black-and-white video for “Mendocino County Line” (shot in Texas, hundreds of miles away from the California landmark in the song’s title), Nelson and Womack, who had already won a CMA award for the duet, teamed for a live performance during the 45th Grammy Awards telecast in 2003. They would go on to win the Grammy for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals.
Taupin and John would weave country music into their collaborations throughout the years, writing such country-flavored gems as “Tiny Dancer,” covered by Tim McGraw, “Dixie Lily” (from the 1974 Caribou LP), “Jack Rabbit” (one of John’s best-ever B-sides), and “Country Comfort,” which John recorded in 1971 for the rootsy Tumbleweed Connection. The latter tune would go on to be covered by both John Anderson and Juice Newton, and the former would co-write “The Ballad of Zero and the Tramp” with Taupin in 1988.
Other Taupin collaborations with country acts: In 1993, he and Carlene Carter penned “The Rain,” from her Little Love Letters LP; in 2001, Toby Keith recorded “Gimme Eight Seconds,” which he wrote with Taupin. And in the mid-Nineties, the songwriter and his band Farm Dogs released a pair of Americana-influenced LPs, the first of which, Last Stand in Open Country, featured guest vocalist Sheryl Crow.